About a year ago, a weight loss supplement on sale in Hawaii was removed from shelves by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). After four months of successive reports regarding the serious liver problems it caused, they finally responded, but they were not solely to blame. Even though it was removed from shelves, the lingering question was whether it was too late and whether anything could have been done to prevent the problem in the first place.
One of the main reasons that this incident and others like it happen is that the monitoring and reporting system is flawed. According to Dr. Peter Cohen, a renowned Harvard medical school professor, the problem with these cases was that they set a precedent for future cases.
In a NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) article, Dr. Cohen noted that the problems are usually reported to doctors and poison control persons in a timely manner. The issue that arises is caused by the lapse of time between doctors’ receipt of the reports to the time that they file a formal report to MedWatch, the FDA’s online complaints portal.
The FDA’s Solution
The FDA has made a significant effort to improve the way that their system works and make it more accessible and user-friendly for doctor reports. They encourage medical professionals to submit their reports immediately when possible and with a maximum delay of a few days.
They have still noted that while doctors have gotten better at reporting cases of supplement related problems, they tend to rush their reports and forget to include pertinent information. Some of the things that are often forgotten include:
- 1) Product details
- 2) Blood work
- 3) Diagnostic tests
- 4) Additional supplements and medication that patients used
The exclusion of these details can make the evaluation and analysis of the supplements, drugs, or combination thereof more difficult. It forces them to conduct lengthy and, often, fruitless tests and analyses.
What More Can You and The FDA Do?
The FDA claims that it needs more funding from congress. Dr. Cohen of the FDA also pointed out that since Congress is not likely to increase funding significantly, they should mandate that the supplements carry information about side-effects, like other medicine does.
It is vital that in the fight to keep your body healthy, you should check out what the internet (quality sources and user reviews) has to say about anything that you ingest in your body. You need to be aware of the products, because the risk of hospitalization, other serious side effects, and death are not something you want to risk. Not only because of the health implications, but also the financial and emotional problems that come along with it.